On March 19, 2004, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson to the Dallas Cowboys straight up for wide receiver Joey Galloway. It proved to be a fantastic move for Jon Gruden's Buccaneers.
Johnson had helped the Buccaneers win Super Bowl XXXVII after the 2002 season, but by the end of the 2003 campaign he had been deactivated and asked to stay away from the team. Galloway had gone to Dallas in a blockbuster 2000 trade with Seattle involving two first-round picks but had failed to record a 1,000-yard season in four years with the Cowboys.
At the time of this mutual "prove-it" trade, Galloway was 32 and Johnson was 31. That was potentially more of a concern for the player headed to Tampa, as he was a receiver whose game was built on top-end speed, unlike Johnson. However, while Johnson would have two respectable seasons in Dallas and one more in Carolina, Galloway would put together one of the best three-year stretches for a receiver in Buccaneer history.
Injuries limited Galloway to 10 games, seven starts and 33 catches in his first year in Tampa. However from 2005-2007 – at the end of which Galloway had turned 36 years old – he racked up three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and 23 touchdowns. That was the first time a Buccaneer receiver had ever topped 1,000 yards in three straight years, a feat only recently matched by Vincent Jackson (2012-14) and Mike Evans (2014-16).
And Galloway was still getting deep during those years. He arrived in Tampa with a career average of 15.7 yards per reception over nine NFL seasons but during that three-year stretch he actually upped that by almost a yard to 16.6. Again, Galloway was 34, 35 and 36 at the end of those three seasons.
Why the walk through relatively recent Buccaneer history? Because the Buccaneers just signed a receiver who has played nine seasons, who will turn 31 in December and who has averaged 17.7 yards per catch in his career. DeSean Jackson got a lucrative three-year deal from Tampa Bay and if he can have the same sort of impact over the same period of time that Galloway did, the Buccaneers would surely be satisfied.
Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter, who know has the enviable task of choosing how to deploy the duo of Evans and Jackson, sees the similarities.
"Joey Galloway, I used to be amazed by him, for his age how he could get behind defenses and do all of those things," said Koetter. "I think that is a really, really good comparison."
Koetter also drew a parallel between Jackson and another player the Buccaneers signed a year ago after he had already crossed over into his 30s. Cornerback Brent Grimes came over from the Dolphins a year ago and turned in a strong first season with the Buccaneers, leading the NFL with 24 passes defensed. Grimes is a shorter player, like Jackson, but he thrives on an incredible athleticism that has not yet deserted him.
Bucs WR DeSean Jackson, DT Chris Baker, GM Jason Licht, and HC Dirk Koetter spoke to the media on Saturday.
"Those are two guys that we are pleased to have on our team," said Koetter of Jackson and Grimes. "Their age says one thing, but when you turn on the tape, the way their bodies are and the way their play-speed is, it doesn't look like that."
Galloway arrived in Tampa the same year that the team picked Michael Clayton in the first round. Clayton had a superb rookie season while Galloway was hampered by injuries, catching 80 passes for 1,193 yards. However, Clayton never approached those kinds of numbers again and, indeed, Galloway was clearly the team's number-one option from 2005-07. No other Buc wideout had more than 35 receptions in either 2005 or 2006, and Ike Hilliard's 62 catches in 2007 came at only an 11.6 yards-per-reception clip.
For that reason, Jackson may end up having an even greater impact than Galloway did as a Buccaneer. Jackson will be teamed with Evans, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he set career highs with 96 receptions for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns. And he won't turn 24 until August. Jackson may put up Galloway-type numbers while also helping up the production for Evans and everyone else on the offense.
"Most of your deep routes are layered routes – you've got somebody going deep, somebody in the intermediate zone and somebody in the check-down zone," Koetter explained. "It gets to a point where, if the defense doesn't have to honor that guy going over the top, they sit down more on your lower-level guys. Now, we're not always going to have DeSean doing that. DeSean can do everything, and Mike's a guy that can get behind the defense as well. This just gives us a lot more flexibility.
"There are a handful of receivers in the league that, when you watch on tape, defenses give those guys respect just because of their speed. DeSean's definitely in the upper echelon of those guys."
As Koetter pointed out on Saturday, his coaching staff considers completions of 16 or more yards to be an "explosive" play, and Jackson has averaged well over that per reception in his career. That's what the Buccaneers ponied up for in free agency, and if Jackson can maintain his big-play ability the way Galloway did a decade ago, they're going to get what they paid for.